Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Philip Piantone, Star Acrobat Part 2

 The story started in yesterday's blog, told by Coen Cunningham, Lawrence County School Superintendent, continues as follows: 

 For the first time in the history of this county we shall see an acrobat become an eighth grade graduate.  He is Philip Piantone, one of the six Tip-Tops, the world’s fastest acrobats who played the Lawrence County fair at Bridgeport, Illinois last September, 1927.  As his part of the commencement program, Mr. Piantone will give an acrobatic performance consisting of hand balancing, contortions and tumbling.  He has been here for the past week practicing and getting used to the stage at the Lawrence Township High School, Lawrenceville, where the commencement will be held.

Piantone is a young man 20 years of age.  He was born in Austria of Italian parentage, and came to the United States at the age of three years, entering school at Norristown, Pennsylvania, at the age of seven years, and continuing in his school work until 14 when he completed the seventh grade. At this time he was compelled to leave school to help support his family of nine brothers and sisters.  His love of America and American ideals cannot be expressed in words.

At a very young age he cherished an ambition to become one of America’s distinguished surgeons.  Later at the age of 18, he became a professional acrobat after years of hard training with himself as teacher, principally.  He was able to do this because of his persistency.  Then he cast his lot with the six American Tip-Tops, which troupe played not only the best county and state fairs but the best theaters of Canada, but required hours of practice each day, and then four hours of intense study every day.  He studied while riding on trains, between acts at the theatres, and before and after shows.  His attention to his books invoked a lot of criticism from his fellow comrades who asked him if he was going to make a preacher out of himself.

Piantone is a young man of clean habits, he does not use tobacco or intoxicating liquors in any form and he does not have any other bad habits that many young men of his age have. He has helped his family with his spare money ever remembering that his mother has been a great inspiration to him.  He has real character - something to be proud of - a great possession.  As a young chap he was a physical weakling, but by persistency in physical exercises he has not only developed a strong body, but he has become a professional athlete and acrobat able to do things that few men, indeed can do.  He has worked himself up to the place where he can make an attractive earning on the stage, but he is leaving that for greater service – to become a surgeon at which he can not only relieve suffering humanity, but also go into research work for the purpose of putting his name on the pages of history many, many years hence.

Among other things that are giving him inspiration to go ahead and accomplish his goal is the encouragement that has been given him by a young woman in Chicago – Miss Freda Bernard, who has been a constant inspiration to him.

I sincerely hope that Philip Piantone will receive encouragement at the hands of the people of Lawrence County, where he has now decided to work out his four years of high school after when he will spend six years in a college of surgery.  He will be 31 years of age when he reaches his goal.

 Ed Note:  The researchers could not determine what happened to Mr. Piantone after this article. Thanks to Roxane S for transcribing this article.  

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Philip Piantone, Star Acrobat

Fundraiser:  The Historical Society will once again be offering fresh evergreen swags for home decorating needs for the holidays. Made locally by Society members, these fresh boughs of local pine and cedar are accented with bunches of fresh holly berries.  A large all-weather red velvet bow adds the finishing touch. The cost is $15.00 each. Please call Donna 908-208-2372 of Nancy  618-240-2021 and place your order. WE also have grave blankets for sale as well.  See previous blog for pictures.   

    Abandons Stage Career to Complete His High School Education Here

Interesting Human Nature Story Revealed in School Notes of County Superintendent Who Tells of Determination to Complete Education of Philip Piantone, Star Acrobat.

Lawrenceville, Ill, June 26, 1928 – How determination to win an education, at the sacrifice of a stage career that has been paying him a fabulous weekly salary, is told by E. C. Cunningham, county school superintendent, in his school notes this week.  The young man is Philip Piantone, second fastest acrobat in the US, who on Friday evening will be one of the eighth grade graduates from the Lawrence county public schools. 

Young Piantone, handicapped in boyhood and unable to obtain the education coveted, weak physically and shunned by his children companions, determined to build for his self a future.  How he overcame physical obstacles in developing his body, is related in Mr. Cunningham’s story.  The young man is determined to complete his high school education so he can study surgery for he is determined to become one of the big surgeons in the country.

Through the aid of Superintendent Cunningham, the young man, now 21 years of age, abandoning the stage where he had established a successful career as one of the six acrobats in the Tip-Tops troupe that performed in small towns to large cities of the United States and Canada. They played the Illinois state fair, Springfield, last year.  They also played the Lawrence county fair in Bridgeport Ill., where he met the writer, who in conversation with him detected a lingering spark of ambition within his breast for an intellectual education and encouraged it.

Piantone lamented the fact that he had not completed the eighth grade. He talked as if he thought that was his greatest handicap, but I assured him quickly that this could be disposed of during the last year.  He was greatly surprised to hear this remarking that he would be playing on the stage in northern United States and Canada.  No doubt he has worked harder than any other graduate for he has averaged more than four hours of intense study every day.  He studied while riding on trains, between acts at the theaters, and before and after shows.  His attention to his books invoked a lot of criticism from his fellow comrades who asked him if he was going to make a preacher out of himself!

Piantone was determined to complete his first goal, and then to complete his high school education so he can study surgery, for he is determined to become one of the big surgeons in the country.  Through the aid of Superintendent Cunningham, the young man, now 21 years of age, abandoning the stage where he had established a name high in theatrical circles, has secured a position in Bridgeport and he will remain in the county until he completes his high school education.

The story, replete with human interest features, is told by Mr. Cunningham as follows.

Continued tomorrow

Friday, November 20, 2020

Nancy Watts Van Schaik

Fundraiser:  The Historical Society will once again be offering fresh evergreen swags for home decorating needs for the holidays. Made locally by Society members, these fresh boughs of local pine and cedar are accented with bunches of fresh holly berries.  A large all-weather red velvet bow adds the finishing touch. The cost is $15.00 each. Please call Donna 908-208-2372 of Nancy  618-240-2021 and place your order. WE also have grave blankets for sale as well.  See previous blog for pictures.   

While the researchers were looking for women to add to our growing list of the Ladies of Lawrence, they ran across the name, Nancy Watts Van Schaik

Mrs. Van Schaik had been born in Miami, Florida, February 7, 1930, but Nancy Watts (Worner)  had local Lawrence County roots. She was the granddaughter of  Thomas C. and Carrie B. Watts, and the daughter of Amiel H. and Madeline W. Worner.  Her parents moved to Lawrenceville,  and she attended the local schools, graduating from Lawrenceville High School as a high honor student. 

The Lawrence County News, November 2, 1950, announced that Nancy Worner, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. A. H. Worner of Lawrenceville, a senior at Eastern Illinois State College, was one of 22 juniors and seniors nominated to Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities by the Student Council and faculty.  Nancy’s activities at Eastern State include Delta Sigma Epsilon, Kappa Mu Epsilon, junior aid, class secretary, and Women’s League.  

After graduating from Eastern in 1951 with a Bachelor of Science in Education, she earned her Master of Science from the University of Wisconsin in 1953, while she was working on her doctorate degree as well. 

On September 2, 1954, the Lawrence County News published a long write-up of her wedding at her parents' home in Lawrenceville to Dr. Van Schaik, who held a Bachelor of Science degree from Stellenbosch University in South Africa, and his Masters and Doctorate from the University of Wisconsin.  A short time after the wedding, the young couple sailed aboard the Queen Mary for England, and from there, they toured Europe before making their home at Pretoria, South Africa, where Dr. Van Schaik was the professor of genetics at the University of Pretoria. 

Sadly, Nancy's husband died just five years later on October 21, 1959, leaving her with two small sons,  4 yrs old and 21 months old.   The newspaper, Die Vanderland, Johannesburg, Union of South Africa, carried  the following article concerning her on August 11, 1960: 

Unusual Post for an Unusual Woman
    "It seldom happens that a woman, after her husband’s death, can take over his job.  That is the case with Mrs. Nancy van Schaik, lecturer in Genetics in the Agricultural Section of the University of Pretoria.  Mrs. van Schaik, an attractive American woman, received her Doctor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin, where she was married to one of her fellow students, Dr. Theodore van Schaik, a lecturer at the local University. Sadly, Dr. Theodore van Schaik died October 21, 1959 leaving Mrs. van Schaik with two small sons, age 21 months and the eldest at age 4. At the end of the year, his wife took over his post at the University.
   "At 8:30 every morning, Saturdays also, Mrs. van Schaik’s day of lecturing for agricultural students begins.  In between, she is busy full time in her laboratory with experiments – some that take a day – some that stretch over a period of weeks.  Meanwhile she is busy with an experiment on fruit flies, and also on the chromosomes of corn plants and onion sprouts.
   "Although her day consists to a large extent in giving lectures and performing experiments, she is also a diligent housewife, and her greatest interest is her two sons of two and five years.  If she has a free moment, she also enjoys doing a bit of gardening." 


Mrs. Van Shaik's career consisted of the followed positions: Lecturer, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1952-1954; lecturer, U. Pretoria, South Africa, 1957-1965; senior lecturer, U. Pretoria, South Africa, 1966-1973; associate professor, U. Pretoria, South Africa, 1974; professor, department head, U. Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 1975-1995; professor emeritus, U. Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.  She was well known as a noteworthy genetics educator publishing a book, Drosophila Genetics: A Practical Course. 

In addition to her mother visiting Mrs. Van Shaik while she and the boys lived in South Africa, Libby Ann Dunseth visited her there while Mrs. Dunseth was a member of a flying safari. Mrs. Van Schaik returned several times to Lawrenceville and while in town, she often gave slide shows of South Africa to organizations.  

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Early Days in Chauncey

Fundraiser:  The Historical Society will once again be offering fresh evergreen swags for home decorating needs for the holidays. Made locally by Society members, these fresh boughs of local pine and cedar are accented with bunches of fresh holly berries.  A large all-weather red velvet bow adds the finishing touch. The cost is $15.00 each. Please call Donna 908-208-2372 of Nancy  618-240-2021 and place your order. WE also have grave blankets for sale as well.  See previous blog for pictures.   

In the Pink Letters book, a Lawrence County Historical Society publication of letters written by Lawrence County natives who subscribed to the Sumner Press in the 1920s, Mrs. Kate Greer Keplinger told how her father Richard Greer, her uncle William Nunns and another uncle, W. H. Brown laid out the town of Chauncey in 1858.  A new frame school house was built there at that time, The M. E church soon followed by M. P Luther Watts’ first store.  In the 1860s, Chauncey got its first post office. Prior to that letters for that area were addressed to the Petty Post office about five miles away.  

Mrs. Amy Weaver Richey (born 1875) responded with another letter March 23, 1916, who described Chauncey during her childhood.  “Chauncey was quite metropolitan by comparison when I arrived at school age, for in addition to a dozen or so houses, two churches, Rush Newman’s store and the store and post office kept by “Grandpa” Berkshire as he was known to everyone, the brick schoolhouse had been recently built. 


"Although I attended both churches rather impartially, when old enough, it is the  M.E.  or “East” church as it was usually termed that holds for me the most tender associations, for my first attendance at the original building was on that saddest of occasions, when father lifted me, a tiny girl, to see mother’s face, for the last time as she lay in her coffin. When I passed through the doors of the present edifice, twenty-five years later, it was to follow father to his final resting place by her side in the old Wagner Cemetery."

The  Rural Republican, April 18, 1890, described Chauncey as such: 

"Chauncey is a village of 85 inhabitants situated on a beautiful strip of Prairie, 8 miles almost due north of Sumner. It contains three good country stores, one drug store, one shoe shop, two blacksmith shops, a two-story brick school house and two churches. It has within its limits two organizations, one F. M. B. A.  lodge, a brass band and four professional men, a doctor, a preacher and two school teachers. The village is surrounded by some of the most beautiful country, and a great variety of soil."  


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Happenings at Russellville, Civil War Era

News and Gossip of Russellville 1838-1867

September 29, 1838 Western Sun Married on Tuesday evening, the 25th of September,1838, by the Rev. Mr. Bayles, Mr. Augustus V. Russell, of Russellville, Ill to Miss Jane Bonner, of Vincennes, Ind.

August 27, 1859 Weekly Sun W. B. Emmons, an intelligent and reliable farmer, living near Russellville, gives us a rather gloomy account of the prospect in his vicinity for the growing crops.  The dry, hot weather has injured a great deal of the corn past redemption; a good many fields will make nothing but nubbins.  The potatoes are also unpromising.  Acorn mast is very scare and poor in his neighborhood. 

December 22, 1860 Weekly Sun Wheat is worth 90 cents and corn 20 cents a bushel at Russellville.

October 11, 1862 Weekly Sun On Monday, John Hallet and Hugh and Persley Benton were arrested at Russellville on a charge of stealing several horses from Crawford County. The men were taken to the Lawrence County jail. 

July 11, 1863 Weekly Sun The citizens of Lawrence and Crawford counties united in celebrating the Fourth in a grand style, in a beautiful grove near Russellville.  We have heard the crowd estimated at from 3 to 4000 and we never witnessed a better state of feeling that was at this good old fashioned barbecue. The exercises were opened with prayer, followed by the reading of the Declaration of Independence. The crowd then adjourned to dinner and in the spite of the immense throng, there was an abundance of everything with enough to spare.  The whole affair passed off delightfully, and all who participated will not doubt always refer to it as one of the happiest and most pleasant events of their whole lives. 

September 1, 1866 Weekly Sun Let all those from Vincennes who desire to attend the Democratic and Conservative rally and basket dinner planned near Russellville, on the 8th of September, remember that the steamer Mate, with Capt. Dick Eastham will carry parties to and return on that occasion. 

September 15, 1866 Weekly Sun Saturday morning broke bright and beautiful upon Russellville for their grand Democratic and Conservative rally.  At an early hour, the various delegations began to arrive, with music and banters and Hoke’s Grove was soon crowded. There were at least 5,000 to 6,000 people on the ground including a great number of ladies.  There were hickory wagons, full of pretty girls, (the one from Russell Township being particularly conspicuous) and Hickory poles bearing aloft the star spangled banner.  The excellent brass band from Lawrenceville elicited much praise for their fine performances and did much to enliven the scene.

November 23, 1867 Weekly Sun A man named Jas. Clark, driving a wagon of movables from Vincennes toward Russellville on Thursday last, met another wagon on the road.  Neither of the drivers would turn off, and the wheels of their vehicles locked.  The horses became unmanageable, rearing and plunging furiously.  Clark was thrown out of his wagon; two of the wheels passed over him, injuring him very seriously. 


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Death of H. Bennett, Unsolved Crime 1905

Unsolved Crime Death of Horace Bennett    December 30, 1905

Sunday morning about 10 o’clock, the body of a man was discovered by some men in the woods about a hundred yards west of the north end of the trestle leading to the Big Four bridge at Lawrenceville. The men had been up the river looking after some traps. They immediately came to town and notified Sheriff Carr. 

After being informed by Harry Ruddy about the crime, Carr went to the campsite and found a young man probably 23 years of age, who had been hideously murdered during the night. The body was face down, lying on its left side, with the face lying in a pool of blood.  His feet were toward the north on a board that had probably been used as a campstool. His face and head was literally beaten into a pulp; the nose and jaw were broken. The condition of the body led Carr to believe he had been dead for several hours. There was a club lying nearby that the perpetrators had used to commit the awful deed. His pockets were turned inside out, and a few papers were lying near the body that led to his identification.

A letter from Mayor C. H. Ayers of Portland, Indiana gave his name as Horace Bennett. Sheriff Carr telephoned that city, but the mayor was away.  The Portland Chief of Police identified the body from the description. He was a paroled prisoner and Mayor Ayers was his sponsor. His mother, Amanda, lived in Portland. The sheriff gave permission to embalm the body.  

The body was taken to the court house basement where an inquest was held late Sunday evening by the coroner, A. T. Abell. The jurors were W. A. Gould (Foreman), Joe Bernstine, Ed Adams, Clarence Leach, E. P. Plowman, and Dr. Chas. P. Gore.  Stanley Vandament stated that he saw the man Saturday evening about 4:30 accompanied by another man, near where the body was found as he passed by to check on his traps. The two men indicated they were going to make camp and asked Vandament for some matches.  

Britt Roberts, who had accompanied Vandament, stated that he saw the man with two companions get off a north-bound freight Saturday about 3 o’clock. One companion got back on the south-bound passenger. The other two, including Bennett, walked toward the depot. Later in the evening about 7:30 or 8:00, he saw Bennett’s companion at Furrows Restaurant where he was buying things to eat. 

Harry Ruddy said he was awakened about 10 am by Geo. Gosnell, Albert Brush, Ernest Gosnell Homer Cochran and Link Ryan. They found the body about 46-50 ft. west of the new Grade. There was a small purse near the body. 

Others stated they saw Bennett Saturday evening. They remembered because he was crippled and walked stiff-legged, his right leg being at least 4 inches shorter than the right leg. 

Among the papers was found a card Bennett used for begging. Successive dates of the month and an amount of money opposite the dates, presumably the result of his begging each day, was written on the card.  From the amounts shown, he averaged $2.00 a day. There was also a letter addressed to him at Memphis, Tennessee.  He may have been making his way home to Portland and had some money on his person. No money was found on the body.

After viewing the body and hearing the evidence, the verdict of the Coroner’s jury was that Bennett came to his death by wounds inflicted with a blunt instrument in the hands of person or persons unknown. 

Mayor Ayers of Portland arrived in Lawrenceville, Tuesday morning and took the body home to Bennett’s mother. A collection had been taken up to pay for the expenses.  He stated the young man had been in Harrisburg for a time working for the rail road and may have had some money.

On January 10, 1906, the Sumner Press reported that Governor Charles S. Deneen had offered a reward of $200. The Lawrence County Board of Supervisors matched that sum for the arrest and conviction of the murderers.  A week later, the Vincennes Western Sun issued a description of the two men: One of the men was about 20 years old, 5 feet 7 inches tall, with broad shoulders and dark hair wearing dark clothes, well-worn, and brown hat, almost black in color seeming rather dirty.  The other man was described as older in appearance than his companion, six feet tall with light complexion, and wearing well-worn, dark clothes. 

The residents of Lawrenceville have never learned if the murderers were brought to justice.

Sheriff: P.J. Carr 

Coroner: A.T. Abell

Bibliography: 

Lawrence County News, December 10, 1905

Lawrence County Coroner’s Report, December 31 1905

Lawrenceville Republican, "Foully Murdered" January 4, 1906

Vincennes Western Sun, “Found Slain” January 5, 1906 

Sumner Press,  January 11, 1906    

Vincennes Western Sun, “Governor Has Issued Reward for Lawrenceville Murders” January 19, 1906 

Research by K Borden,  Article by D Burton


Monday, November 16, 2020

Tramps Take Over South Lawrenceville

 Lawrence County News

October 5, 1910

 Hobos cause trouble

Residents of south Lawrenceville complain of petty annoyances and depredations of tramps who infest that portion of the city in large numbers. Saturday morning one of them entered Arch Smith’s barn and cut the back straps from a set of heavy harness to make a handle for a box. When followed and accused of the theft he strongly denied the accusation but was arrested and brought before Squire Jones who held him to the grand jury in the sum of $200.

Sunday morning John Swineheart saw a couple of tramps secrete a bundle in an old shed on the Johnson farm and upon investigation found 2 suits of clothes. Officer Baldwin was notified and together with Arch Smith gave chase to the men. Baldwin is not cut out for a sprinter and was soon distant in the race. Smith gained on his man and just as soon he came in reaching distance the man pulled a revolver and commanded Arch to stop and he promptly complied with the command. Later Sheriff Vandament and a number of citizens prosecuted the search for the two men, but without avail. The clothes have the appearance of have been taken from a car as there are no tags or markings on them to indicate they had ever been placed in stock.

Residents of that section are aroused and it has been reported that they will organize in an effort to rid themselves of the hundreds of tramps who congregate there.